Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement

Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement

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by Miriam Pawel
     
 

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The rise, fall, and legacy of the inspirational United Farm Workers movement, and the untold story of iconic community organizer Cesar Chavez.

A generation of Americans came of age boycotting grapes, swept up in a movement that vanquished California's most powerful industry and accomplished the unthinkable: dignity and contracts for

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Overview

The rise, fall, and legacy of the inspirational United Farm Workers movement, and the untold story of iconic community organizer Cesar Chavez.

A generation of Americans came of age boycotting grapes, swept up in a movement that vanquished California's most powerful industry and accomplished the unthinkable: dignity and contracts for farm workers. Four decades later, Cesar Chavez's likeness graces postage stamps, and dozens of schools and streets have been renamed in his honor. But the real story of Chavez's farm workers' movement--both its historic triumphs and its tragic disintegration--has remained buried beneath the hagiography.

Drawing on a rich trove of original documents, tapes, and interviews, Miriam Pawel chronicles the rise of the UFW during the heady days of civil rights struggles, the antiwar movement, and student activism in the 1960s and '70s. From the fields, the churches, and the classrooms, hundreds were drawn to la causa by the charismatic Chavez, a brilliant risk-taker who mobilized popular support for a noble cause. But as Miriam Pawel shows, the UFW was ripped apart by the same man who built it, as Chavez proved unable to make the transition from movement icon to union leader. Pawel traces the lives of several key members of the crusade, using their stories to weave together a powerful portrait of a movement and the people who made it.

A tour de force of reporting and a spellbinding narrative, The Union of Their Dreams explores an important and untold chapter in the history of labor, civil rights, and immigration in modern America.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Pawel (former reporter, Newsday) has written a well-integrated and illuminating history of Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers Union (UFCW) and the related struggle for civil rights. She tells the bottom-up history of the UFCW through the eyes of eight activists whom she interviewed—including a Protestant minister, ordinary farmworkers, and radical lawyers—who devoted years of their lives to Cesar Chavez and his vision. The author thus captures the heady days of early organizing, starting in 1965; Chavez's failure to create a self-sustaining union from the movement that he regarded as his alone; and the ultimate departure of many activists when they became disillusioned with Chavez's leadership. VERDICT This work recognizes Chavez's organizing talents, his personal charisma, and his all-too-human belief that he was the union. Thus, it is a valuable addition to the story of Chavez and the UFCW. Recommended primarily to students of labor and Chicano history, although general readers interested in the changes wrought during the 1960s may well like it, too.—Duncan Stewart, Univ. of Iowa, Iowa City
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—Pawel has no problem with the idolization of Chavez as a community/worker organizer. What he accomplished, and how he accomplished it, was truly phenomenal. However, his genius for leading a movement did not extend to managing a union. The charismatic, driven, and exceptionally devoted Chavez was better at getting things going than keeping them on track. The author examines the inspirational rise, wobbly tenure, and ultimate decline and fall of the United Farm Workers movement. She focuses not so much on the leader, but on eight others who were essential to whatever success the movement enjoyed. And the UFW may have seen far greater and sustained success if these voices had not been ignored and/or silenced. Pawel combines document research with recent interviews with several former directors, legal staff, and rank and file, allowing her to present a thorough and convincing treatment of an important chapter in American history. Source notes, a brief bibliography, and a smattering of black-and-white photos help; the lack of an index detracts.—Robert Saunderson, formerly at Berkeley Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews
The inside story of the first successful attempt to unionize farmworkers in the United States. In the early 1960s, workers in America's vineyards and lettuce fields lacked basic protections and rights, writes former Newsday and Los Angeles Times reporter and editor Pawel. Earning about $2,500 per year, they worked without drinking water or bathrooms, were often cheated out of wages and lacked unemployment and health insurance. In this extensively researched history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, the author focuses on a handful of men and women who joined la causa of the charismatic Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), taking part in strikes and boycotts to win bargaining agreements. Pawel deftly weaves their stories into a narrative of three turbulent decades of protest against California growers and the U.S. supermarket chains that sold their produce. The principals include teenage farmworker Eliseo Medina, who joined the nascent union movement in 1965 and eventually became a leader; Chris Hartmire, a former East Harlem youth minister who acted as a propagandist in what he deemed to be a moral crusade for the poor; and Ellen Eggers, a naive young college graduate from Indiana, who went from "ignorance to outrage" in her work as a boycott coordinator. These deeply engaged workers and middle-class youths were among thousands who received $5 per week plus room and board as volunteer foot soldiers in a crusade that convinced 17 million Americans to stop eating grapes. Recounting strategizing sessions, dealmaking and internal squabbles, Pawel shows how the movement grew and won legitimacy as a union. The iconic Chavez is seen as a micromanager whose fasts and fervor galvanized others, but whocould not tolerate internal dissent and failed ultimately to build a strong union. By 2005, the UFW had no contracts in the grape vineyards or the lettuce fields, but had "mastered the art of cashing in on Latino political power." Meanwhile, a new generation of farmworkers toiled at minimum wage. A revealing celebration of activists in the glory days of a movement for change. Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins Loomis Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596914605
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

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